Tempest At Ox Hill: The Battle of Chantilly, Part 3

by Brett Schulte on October 15, 2005 · 0 comments

Tempest at Ox Hill: The Battle of Chantilly
by David A. Welker

Chapter 2 – The Confluence of Two Lives
1. Welker next details the lives of Philip Kearny and Isaac Stevens, the two promising Union commanders who lost their lives at Chantilly. Despite sharing little in common in their lives, both of these men were hard fighters with bright futures. Stevens had graduated first in his class at West Point, and Kearny, despite being prevented from attending West Point by his grandfather, eventually found himself a veteran of many fights, both foreign and domestic. Each man almost definitely knew of the other, but they might have only first met on the Union right at Second Bull Run. These men led from the front because they knew no other way to lead men than to literally LEAD them. This personal courage, some would say recklessness, caught up with both of them on September 1, 1862.

2. Neither man was a fan of George McClellan. Stevens had led a pre-War surveying expedition to the state of Washington that included McClellan. When McClellan failed to live up to Stevens’ high expectations, Stevens dismissed him as incompetent. This feud would come back to haunt Stevens when McClellan achieved early-war success. Kearny was disappointed that men he perceived to be lesser generals than himself were so swiftly promoted for political reasons. In spite of this known dislike of McClellan, the performances of Kearny and Stevens ensured that they were on the fast track to Corps command as the first day of September 1862 dawned.

Chapter 3 – Movement and Machinations – Sunday, August 31, 1862; Dawn to Midday
1. “Movements and Machinations” covers the first half of the day following the Battle of Second Bull Run. Pope’s Army was at Centreville, Virginia, behind formidable fortifications. Most were miserable after their defeat of the day before. Welker stresses the importance of Pope’s line, saying:

The size and flexibility of Pope’s force would have made any army commander jealous. Indeed, he had two entire corps in his reserve and yet still had a solid defensive line.

Lee sent Jackson on a flanking march first north up Gum Springs Road, and then ESE down the Little River Turnpike. This important road led to Fairfax Courthouse and an intersection with the Warrenton Turnpike. Pope would need to use the Warrenton Turnpike to retreat to Washington, and Lee hoped to get Jackson interspersed between the Federal Army and their Capital. Pope spent the first half of August 31st utterly oblivious to Jackson’s march.

2. Because of this strong line, Welker believes that Lee probably woke up on August 31 knowing what he wanted to do. The area on Pope’s left was too restricted to offer a good flanking opportunity, and a reconnaissance by “Jeb” Stuart confirmed that Pope had been receiving reinforcements, so a frontal assault was off as well. This left only a flanking move on Pope’s right, the move Lee ended up making. Welker then proceeds to go into detail about what he believes Lee’s plans were. He postulates that Lee wanted Jackson to get to Fairfax Courthouse and turn west to Centerville to bottle Pope up in his entrenchments. Welker says that Lee figured the worst case scenario was that a battle would end in a draw and Lee could then proceed with an invasion of Maryland. However, Welker warns that the plan was not without risks, since Lee was dividing his forces in the face of a numerically superior foe. If Jackson marched too fast or Longstreet too slow Pope had an opportunity to crush Jackson in detail before Longstreet could arrive on the field of battle. Welker believes that Lee’s actions showed that he believed the potential gains far outweighed the risks.

3. Pope was a little more than dishonest on August 31 in his telegraphs to Halleck in Washington. He smoothed over the utter defeat of his Army and said they were in good spirits. However, Welker says that Pope knew he had lost the backing of his men. Would they fight for him? Pope’s way out was to get permission from Washington to attack or retreat. In this way he would not be totally responsible if a disaster followed. In order to do this, Pope gave Halleck a slightly clearer picture of his army’s demoralization. Pope’s scheme worked and Halleck told him to do what was best. Welker closed the chapter with yet another deliberately misleading telegraph from Pope to Halleck claiming prominent Confederate generals had been killed or wounded.

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